Herb Blurb: Spirulina

Spirulina for horses

A few billion years ago, there were stirrings in the womb of our brand new planet. Earth was coming of age and producing her very first lifeforms. It is difficult to imagine how scientists learned of Earth’s microscopic firstborn, but somehow under the dust and rock of more than 3.6 billion years, the ancient little graves of Spirulina were uncovered.

But far from being an extinct historical landmark, Spirulina (or blue-green algae as it is also known) exists in an almost unaltered state to this very day, growing quietly in fresh and salt water, tropical springs, and most notably, Spirulina farming ponds.

Spirulina advocates claim this “superfood” is so nutritionally complete that one can live on it alone and be completely healthy. Its many reported benefits have precipitated extensive scientific investigations into this miniature nutraceutical.

Spirulian for Allergies

Perhaps the most commonly encountered clinical claim for Spirulina is as an immunomodulating agent. Spirulina completely inhibited systemic allergic reactions in rats at a dose of 100ug/g BW (i.p.), and also inhibited local allergic reactions at a dose of 10ug/g BW (Kim et al, 1998). These doses are reported to reduce serum histamine and serum TNF-α (Kim et al, 1998). Other authors have reported that Spirulina does not affect IgE levels in allergy-challenged mice, suggesting that the plant should at least not adversely influence allergies dependent on IgE. It also increases IgA, which may help protect animals against allergic reactions (Hayashi et al, 1994 and 1998).

A Potent Antioxidant

Spirulina is a strong antioxidant. It increases activity of the body’s innate antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase and catalase, while limiting the oxidation of nonenzymatic antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and reduced glutathione (Farooq et al, 2004). The protective mechanism is not completely understood, but it does not appear that Spirulina is a particularly good source of dietary antioxidants like vitamin E (Gomez-Coronado et al, 2004).

Spirulina is reportedly without toxic side effects when fed to animals at many times the dosage recommended for consumption (Chamorro et al, 1996). However, it is possible that it may exacerbate pre-existing autoimmune disease (Lee and Werth, 2004), and may be contraindicated in chronic viral liver disease (Baicus and Tanasescu, 2002).

Dr. Wendy Pearson is a research scientist at the Nutraceutical Alliance in Campbellville, Ontario. She co-owns Canada’s only contract research facilities specializing in equine research, and teaches courses in equine management and physiology at the University of Guelph. Wendy has published more than 20 peer reviewed research papers on nutraceuticals and medicinal plants in horses. She resides in Campbellville, Ontario with her husband, two children, four cats, three dogs and eight horses.